Farcical elections in Iran

Hany Ghoraba
Thursday 10 Jun 2021

Iran will be electing a new president later this month, but any hope that this could lead to change from within the regime is simply wishful thinking

The Iranian presidential elections are a farcical spectacle that occurs every four years to change the guard in Tehran to newer faces that nevertheless carry on the same destructive domestic and international policies. This has been the case since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and it is not poised to change. 

There has rarely been so interventionist a country in modern times as the Islamic Republic of Iran, which dedicates an enormous amount of its political agenda to interfering in the affairs of its neighbours and regional countries, threatening them with war and military action. 

This year, the Iranian presidential elections are scheduled to be held on 18 June, and thus far seven candidates have been confirmed out of the whopping 592 who signed applications to stand. As has been the case for all elections in Iran over the past 42 years, all the reformist candidates have been turned down by the country’s Guardianship Council, which keeps the country under its current ultra-conservative regime by getting rid of any candidates deemed to be a risk to it. 

The seven candidates selected by the council are Ebrahim Raisi, Mohsen Rezai, Saeed Jalili, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Abdul-Nasser Hemmati, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Alireza Zakani. Out of the seven, Raisi, 60, is considered the most conservative.

He has been appointed by Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei as the country’s chief justice, and he seems to have the support of the conservative old guard for the position of president, according to many observers. 

The ailing 82-year-old Khamenei may see his own position fall vacant should he fall ill during the next presidential term. Raisi is one of the shortlisted contenders for the position because of the personal support given him by Khamenei. 

The council never provides any explanation as to why candidates are rejected from entering the race, sparking controversy as its decisions nip in the bud any chance for reform. It is no secret that the 12-member council, handpicked by Khamenei, plays a huge role in making sure that only candidates favoured by him and following his hardline policies can stand. In May, it ousted one candidate from the race by amending the regulations such that presidential candidates have to be aged between 40 and 75, thus preventing current Iranian Minister of Communications Mohammad-Javad Azari from entering. 

It goes without saying that of the 40 women who have submitted applications to be candidates in the presidential elections, all have been rejected.

It has been the case since the Iranian Revolution, that the presidential elections are theatrical at best, and regardless of the winner his hands are always tied behind his back when it comes to making any major changes in the policies of the regime.

Former president Mohamed Khatami, who served as president of Iran for two terms between 1997 and 2005, failed to deliver on his rosy promises of changing the domestic situation in Iran. A similar failure was met with by his international policies, which despite being more open and less aggressive still remained reflective of the supreme leader’s ideology. Khatami failed his supporters because his hands were tied by Khamenei, and then the Iranian people were presented with another ultra-conservative president when he left office in the form of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

In a matter of weeks, Ahmadinejad erased any positive moves made by his predecessor, diming any hope of changing Iran through elections. Ahmadinejad was the evil face of the Iranian regime that had been concealed for eight years during Khatami’s time in office, but was revealed once again when Ahmadinejad was in power.

This year’s Iranian elections, though seemingly interesting, thus remain a zero-sum game in which the radicals gain and the reformists lose, and there is no hope of any tangible or peaceful change in the country. All previous shows of dissent have been met by brutal force by the notorious Basij riot police. Memories of the public protests in 1999 and 2009, among others, have left scars in the minds of many Iranians and in those of all who support freedom around the world. 

Four decades of aggression domestically and internationally orchestrated by the Iranian regime have left the country a pariah in the Middle East. The enormous oil wealth and other forms of wealth that the country is blessed with could have made Iran one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But alas, this wealth has been consistently squandered to pay for the military adventures of the Iranian regime and its financial and logistical support for terrorist or radical groups such as Hizbullah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood also forged a strong bond with the Iranian regime in its earliest days through the Brotherhood’s Swiss-based financier Sobhi Nada.  

Regardless of his identity, the next Iranian president will have to deal with a myriad of issues accumulated over the past four decades, such that Iran has managed to make an enemy of almost every country in the Middle East and the West. Iran’s openly hostile policies towards the Arab Gulf States and its constant military threats are no secret. But their results have been economic failure, from which Iran’s citizens are now suffering, given the sanctions imposed on the regime by countries and blocs around the world. 

The Iranian regime still has the audacity to hunt down Iranian opposition members and assassinate dissidents in Europe, such as the two killed in Holland in 2015 and 2017, sparking EU sanctions. Moreover, it insists on acquiring nuclear weapons as a form of deterrence and threat to its foes, regardless of the ludicrous claims by Iranians officials that this is a peaceful programme. All these issues must be handled by the new president, who will be forced to follow the same twisted path set out by Khamenei. 

Unless some political miracle occurs, the next Iranian president will remain a puppet in the hands of the supreme leader and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The hopes of some analysts and observers, who exaggerate the importance of each Iranian presidential election because they want to see change from within the regime, will thus remain wishful thinking. 

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: